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Obama must revise US policies in Middle East



It is time now for the United States to create new raison d'etre and raison d' état in Middle East. And it is also time for Washington and the American President Barack Obama to look beyond the traditional allies in the region and reset their priorities in Middle East in the wake of the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis). Because, it is time now to rise to the occasion; take a hard look at the emerging realities and embrace situations that demand convergence of interests.

Author of a critically acclaimed book, Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Roots of Mistrust, foreign policy analyst and director of the Iranian Institute at the University of St Andrews, Ali Ansari, is probably right in suggesting that Isis has given Iran and the US a rare opportunity for détente. "The rise of Isis offers a chance they must seize. At last realism can win out over diplomatic ideology."

Indeed, "concerted political will from both sides will be required to translate a tactical coincidence of interests into a strategic detente." Even The Independent columnist, Patrick Cockburn feels that the West in general should take up Tehran's offer to defeat Isis.

This will mandate some radical thinking in Washington and take a walk down the highways of the recent history. We were surprised to note Washington turning blind eyes at the real perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and the actual patrons of Al Qaeda.

Iran was in no way related to the biggest and the most daring terror attack of our history and when Tehran offered unconditional support for the US invasion of Afghanistan many, including myself, looked forward to a developing diplomatic relation between the United States and Iran. We thought of a constructive Washington-Tehran relationship.

Former US president George W. Bush was wrong to eschew Iran's reformist former president Mohammad Khatami's "Dialogue of Civilisation" and denounce the nation as a member of the "axis of evil." Bush and his administration made the worst advertisement of American hubris and showed that in Middle East the US policies were not just fatally flawed but suffered from acute myopia.

Bush and the United States, as Ali Ansari says, were reckless in seeking a military solution in Iraq rather than a political solution with Iran. In his persuasion of limitless recklessness Bush alienated a possible US ally in Middle East, trampled germination of a balancing power, and a resistance in the region.

Rise of Isis to its present prominence and strength has been due to flawed US policies and dangerous radicalisation of faith sponsored and patronised by a few US allies in Middle East.

Suggestions offered by Flynt Leverett, professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University's School of International Affairs and an author and Hillary Mann Leverett who teaches US foreign policy at American University, is CEO of STRATEGA, a political risk consultancy are worth pondering upon. Obama needs to undertake a revision of approach in Middle East.

Flynt  and Hillary suggest Washington needs to acknowledge the mistaken premises of its Syria policy — that Assad has lost the support of most Syrians and can be overthrown by externally-supported oppositionists — and recognise that ending the anti-Assad insurgency is essential to cutting off ISIS's base in north eastern Syria.

Washington also needs to accept Tehran as an essential player in containing and rolling back Isis' multifaceted challenge and — as some have been advocating inside and outside government for over a decade — embed that acceptance in a broader realignment of US-Iranian relations. It is crucial, though, that America engage Iran over ISIS politically — not, as some suggest, by US warplanes covering Iranian foot soldiers in Iraq.

The US must finally confront its principal regional allies in Middle East over its longstanding support for militants as a policy tool. Their resort to this tool has proven serially damaging for US interests; threatened the equilibrium in the region and has jeopardised global security. Time has come for US leaders to make clear to these allies that their tolerance for it is at an end.

President Obama has himself said that he doesn't rule out anything. Though we know that he said that in context to the growing demand to intervene once again in Iraq and take military action against the marching Isis bigots. But we are also encouraged to believe that he may also weigh his broader options and look beyond the traditional US allies to develop equilibrium in Middle East.

The need today is also to develop an alliance with Iran and Bashar Al Assad which will play a fundamental role in improving situations in the region, create resistance. Fall of Assad will be a disaster and, therefore, instead of trying for a regime change in Syria Obama must now explore retaining Assad and take a policy of engagement with him.

Obama must understand that with time American policies in Middle East has become archaic and the outlook of yester years ought not to be maintained forever, especially when old allies turn rogues.

The rise of Isis is perhaps the biggest threat to our civilisation since the rise of Third Reich in Germany. And the rise of the latest threat needs to be confronted, challenged and eliminated only through realignment of the US alliances in Middle East — collaboration and even strategic alliances with Iran and Assad.

And if that would mean America's disengagement with its traditional allies so be it.  

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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